Pint-Sized Adventures: Modern Beer Travel

Imbibe_Pint-Sized Adventures

In the March/April 2019 issue of Imbibe magazine, I take a deep look at what compels people to travel for beer. When flights of beer are available at every brewery taproom around the corner, why book a flight to drink beer? It’s a fun dive into obsession and frequent-flier miles, RVs and road trips gone awry. The story is currently on newsstands only for the moment. Journalism: not everything is free!

Where to Drink Beer in the Bay Area

Meet Oakland's Beer Revolution. Photo: Push/Facebook

Mention San Francisco to someone, and they’ll likely conjure up images of streetcars, fog, sourdough bread and the Golden Gate Bridge. To this list of icons, allow us to add the humble pint of beer.

In recent years, San Francisco has become a suds powerhouse. The Bay Area boasts excellent breweries and brewpubs such as Dying Vines, Drake’s, Almanac, Trumer, Speakeasy and Magnolia, as well as Russian River and Lagunitas located about an hour’s drive away. Long story short, it’s no sweat to find a first-rate beer in the Bay Area. Here are five of our favorite places to knock back a pint — or four. What are yours?

1. City Beer Store Headquartered in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood (South of Market, if you’re allergic to acronyms), City Beer is the perfect blend of retail operation and relaxed neighborhood bar. While you’re perusing the selection of more than 300 bottles, which you can mix-and-match by the six-pack, you can wet your whistle on one of more than a dozen rare drafts from the likes of Stillwater, Quebec’s Hopfenstark or Belgium’s Emelisse. Bonus: Pay an extra couple bucks, and you can enjoy any bottled beer in store alongside local sausages and Belgian waffles. 1168 Folsom Street, 415-503-1033;

2. Beer Revolution It’s all punk rock, all the time at Oakland’s friendliest and finest craft beer bar. While plotting your next insurgency, occupy a bar stool and slowly work your way through the 47 meticulously curated drafts, including offerings from local all-stars like Drake’s and Dying Vines, alongside oodles of overseas ales. Rigorously cleaned draft lines ensure that the beer will taste as fresh as the day it was kegged. The coolers are also stocked with plenty of bottled brews to take home or, for a small fee, consume on premise. 464 3rd Street, Oakland, 510-452-2337;

3. Monk’s Kettle If dining is as important as drinking, then beeline it to this Mission District standout serving up more than 200 constantly revolving local and international brews, including 24 tap lines and a well-edited selection of cellared beers. The suds are paired to toque Adam Dulye’s menu of forward-thinking, beer-friendly American cuisine such as burgers made with chickpeas and spent grain, mussels bathed in Allagash White and fries showered in hop-infused salt. P.S. Also excellent for Belgian beer paired with peerless food is La Trappe. 3141 16th Street, 415-865-9523;

4. Toronado Pub Don’t let the bar’s Haight Street location deceive you: There’s nothing hippy-dippy about the Toronado, a sticker-plastered tavern favored by die-hard beer drinkers, tattooed rockers, hop heads and a kennel’s worth of canines too. The attraction is a peerless list of Belgian- and California-crafted ales (include a killer collection of rare Russian River brews) served up by bartenders as gruff as they are efficient. Food comes in the form of fat sausages served next door at Rosamunde. 547 Haight Street, 415-863-2276;

5. Zeitgeist When San Francisco’s pea-soup fog clears, there’s no finer spot to slurp brew than at this sprawling suds house equipped with a spacious beer garden, grilled burgers and brats, and four dozen different draft beers. Rub elbows with bikers and Mission Street hipsters as you sip Moonlight Brewing’s delightful Death and Taxes black lager or Bear Republic’s righteously easy-drinking Nor Cal Bitter. P.S. You can rent a hotel room above the bar to ensure that you can start drinking right when Zeitgeist opens at 9 a.m. 199 Valencia Street, 415-255-7505;

This story was originally published on Food Republic.

Minneapolis by the Mouthful

Quinoa waffle, why are you so good to me?

Whenever my wife and I told our friends and coworkers of our recent travel plans, we were met with blinking eyes, chased by an incredulous question: “Why are you visiting Minneapolis?” Uh, why wouldn’t we visit Minneapolis? Bike-friendly and packed with great breweries, restaurants and more cheese curds than one man should eat in a lifetime, it's like catnip for culinary tourists.

Though we did little dining exploration in neighboring St. Paul (next time!), Minneapolis offered us plenty of food and drink to fill a weekend — and our bellies to bursting. Here are favorite things we drank and ate in the North Star State.

1. Chicken and Waffles at HauteDish Minneapolis’ industrial North Loop is a neighborhood in transition. Here, hulking warehouses and factories have been converted to art galleries, condos, coffee shops and bars, and the Twins’ brand-new Target Field serves as an anchor. However, the area’s red lights still shine bright, as strip clubs and sex shops still dot the blocks, as do border-blurring restaurants like HauteDish. Here, General Tso’s sweetbreads are paired with foie gras fried rice; noodles are partnered with snails, Pernod and ricotta salata; and duck comes in a can, à la Au Pied de Cochon. My favorite? Brunch’s buttermilk fried chicken painted in bacon maple syrup and plated atop a sourdough waffle. 119 Washington Ave N., Minneapolis, MN, 612-338-8484,

2. Surly Brewing Furious Located just north of the Twin Cities in Brooklyn Center, Surly has become one of the area’s breakout breweries. It formulates immense, uncompromising creations like Coffee Bender, a porter­–brown ale hybrid that’s cold-steeped with Guatemalan beans, campfire-licked Smoke lager and and the culty Darkness, a Russian imperial stout whose yearly release causes die-hards to queue up by the hundreds. Since I’m a hops junkie, I jonesed for the piney, toffee-accented Furious, a pungent palate wrecker sold by the 16-ounce can.

3. Lemon-Ricotta Hotcakes at Hell’s Kitchen Perhaps I’ve lived a sheltered life, but I’ve never devoured a transcendent pancake. Sure, I’ve eaten hundreds (thousands, perhaps) of satisfying, stomach-filling pancakes topped with plenty of maple syrup. However, none have haunted my dreams — till I nibbled the lemon-ricotta hotcakes at this underground, Ralph Steadman art­–filled eatery. Made with whole-milk ricotta and just-grated lemon zest, the hotcakes are as soft as gelato and so rich that a drizzle of maple syrup would be redundant. 90 S. 9th St., Minneapolis, MN, 612-332-4700

4. Fish Taco Torta at Tilia With 21 craft beers on tap, an open kitchen, bright walls and 40 perpetually packed seats, “this place most reminds me of New York,” my expat friend Nora said as we settled into our chairs and a dinner of homemade charcuterie and playfully goosed goodies. BLT hot dogs are served with pickled cauliflower. Red wine–braised beef cheeks are finished with charred bok choy and XO sauce. But I swooned for the fish taco torta: Well-fried fish is stacked on a pillowy bun alongside peppadew-pepper cole slaw, cilantro and crunchy tortilla chips. 2726 West 43rd St., Minneapolis, MN, 612-354-2806,

5. Sake at Moto-I Today, every town worth its salt boasts a brewpub — or five. But Minneapolis is America’s only city that can claim this rarity, the first and only sake brewpub outside Japan. In the basement, Blake Richardson (also the owner of the nearby, German-influenced Herkimer Pub & Brewery) concocts more than seven different sakes, which are served alongside sumo on the television and excellent bar nibbles including homemade beef jerky, miso popcorn drizzled in pork fat and lagoons of ramen. 2940 Lyndale Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN, 612-821-6262,

6. Libertine at Fulton Beer Seeking to bone up on my Minnesota beer knowledge, I spent an eve at Four Firkins, quite possibly the city’s friendliest, most knowledgeable beer store. Owner Jason Alvey and Co. popped bottles and introduced me to local outfits like Belgian-inspired Boom Island, Steel Toe and Fulton Beer, which is home to Minneapolis’ first brewery taproom. (They were illegal until 2011.) I paid a visit to Fulton, savoring the easy-sipping Lonely Blonde, Sweet Child of Vine IPA, aromatic Ringer Pale and the Libertine. The rich and malty imperial red ale is made with a smidgen of rye, imparting an appealingly spicy note. Yum. 414 Sixth Ave. N., Minneapolis MN, 612-333-3208,

7. Happy Hour at Republic As a lifelong cheapskate, I’m a sucker for a super happy hour, and Republic’s ranks right up there with the best of ’em. Every day from 4 to 6 p.m., many of the 50-plus, largely local beers are discounted to $3 (I particularly liked the West Side Belgian-style IPA from local outfit Harriet), and the kicked-up comfort grub also gets a serious shave. My choice: the grass-fed Thousand Hills hot dog done Chicago-style with sport peppers, pickle relish, tomatoes and mustard, served on a poppy-seed bun with a tangle of salty, skin-on fries dunked into homemade ketchup. 221 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN, 612-338-6146,

8. Vegetable Sides at Brasa Heaps of pulled pork, smoked beef and rotisserie chicken take the starring role at this fun, flesh-forward restaurant with food designed for sharing. But while the meat was mighty good, my wife and I favored the filling vegetable sides, namely the crisp yucca fries, candied yams, rustic cheesy grits and the warm chunks of honey-glazed cornbread. 600 East Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN, 612-379-3030,

9. Asparagus, Fontina and Quinoa Waffle at Birchwood Cafe Quinoa and waffle are not two words that typically rub shoulders, but at the funky, family-friendly Birchwood Cafe the grain joins forces with asparagus slivers and the Italian cheese to give this breakfast standby a savory complexity. A dab of hazelnut-infused butter and an oozy, sun-yellow fried egg are the fab finishing touches. 3311 E. 25th St., Minneapolis, MN, 612-722-4474

10. Masala Mama IPA at Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery Since 1997, the venerable Town Hall brewpub has followed a successful formula: Quality pub grub, such as addictive fried cheese curds and a walleye hoagie, partnered with craft beers and flavorful, all-day-drinking brews including the Black H2O Oatmeal Stout, Hope & King Scotch Ale and my favorite, Masala Mama IPA. It’s a crisp and bitter treat showered in flavors of tropical fruit. 1430 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN, 612-339-8696,

This story was originally published on Food Republic.

Here's Why Boston Made Me Fat

Hello, precious. A lobster roll from Island Creek Oyster Bar.

I liken living in New York City to being trapped in a cocoon surrounded by a force field. There’s so much to eat and drink in the metropolis that it’s tough to break out. Weeks and months pass before residents escape the city limits.

This brings us to Boston. It had been too long since my wife and I had driven the 220 miles north, so we decided to spend a weekend diving face-first into the city’s food and drink scene. Here’s how we happily came back five pounds heavier.

1. Fried Mussels at Park Restaurant I typically despise mussels, but at Harvard Square’s recently opened Park, a subterranean boîte packed with comfy parlor furniture, a fine beer selection and even better cocktails, I found a mussels dish to make me a believer: The bivalves were coated in a batter cut with preserved lemon and fried till fluffy and crisp, then served with a zingy horseradish dipping sauce. It was sort of like eating seafood popcorn. 59 JFK St., Cambridge, MA, 617-491-9851,

2. Grass-Fed Burger at Craigie on Main Forget the Pat LaFrieda–blend burgers. At Craigie, chef Tony Maws mixes his grass-fed beef with umami-rich dehydrated miso and bone marrow — drooling yet? — and cooks the patty in a low-temperature, CVap steam oven to a juicy medium rare. The finishing touches: a quick char on a steel plancha, mace-spiked ketchup, aged cheddar and house-crafted red-wine pickles. The burger is a heap of yum. 853 Main St., Cambridge, MA, 617-497-5511,

3. Harpoon Brewery Cider While the Boston-born outfit is best known for its unfiltered UFO beers and floral IPA, a trip to Harpoon’s south Boston brewery clued me in on a few styles worth your stomach space. The newly released Rich & Dan’s Rye IPA is a citrusy, slightly spicy delight. But I was more smitten by the relatively rare cider. Made with nothing but juice from New England apples, including the McIntosh, the Harpoon Cider is a tart, lightly sweet treat that temporarily made me forget my love affair with beer. 306 Northern Ave., Boston, MA, 617-574-9551,

4. KK’s Bacon and Sea-Salt Pretzel Nuggets With Pimento Cheese Dip at Area Four Pulling quadruple duty as a coffeehouse, bakery, bar and restaurant focusing on local and season ingredients, Area Four might just be a jack-of-all-dining. The pizzas pulled from the wood-, gas-, and infrared-heated oven are finely crusty and charred, but I could happily — and gluttonously, I might add — subsist on the pretzel nuggets cooked in bacon fat and served with a pimento-cheese dip. Um, more please. 500 Technology Square, Cambridge, MA, 617-758-4444,

5. Ward 44 at Saloon Whiskey, grilled and roasted meats, and dark wood are the focus at this subterranean, well, saloon outfitted with arches, old-timey mirrors and an excellent cocktail list. Given the kitchen’s focus on the pleasures of the flesh, it follows that the most intriguing cocktail is the bacon-y Ward 44. Pork belly­–infused whiskey is the focal ingredient, providing a lingering smoky flavor, but lemon and grenadine add crucial balance. 255 Elm St., Somerville, MA, 617-628-4444,

6. Wormtown Brewery Be Hoppy IPA at Flatbread Company Long past the point of common sense, my wife and I wended our way to Davis Square with our bleary eyes set on the former Sacco’s Bowl Haven. Several years ago, the team from quirky Northeast pizza chain Flatbread took over the bowling alley — candlepin bowling, mind you — ripped out a few lanes, installed a pizza oven and stocked the bar with Massachusetts beer and cocktails made with regional spirits. Booze seemed like a bad idea, so I focused on Worcester-based Wormtown’s Be Hoppy, a pungent pleasure bursting with grapefruit bitterness. 45 Day St., Somerville, MA, 617-776-0552,

7. Lobster Roll at Island Creek Oyster Bar The Hotel Commonwealth is a dining and drinking powerhouse, counting buzzy brasserie Eastern Standard, comfortably mod lounge the Hawthorne (overseen by cocktail mastermind Jackson Cannon) and Island Creek Oyster Bar, which might just be Boston’s finest seafood restaurant. The oysters are impeccably sourced (“These are my favorite oysters,” my wife moaned, sucking down several buttery-briny Island Creeks), the breads are house-baked and the lobster roll was a lightly dressed beauty with an unlikely, but delicious addition of diced pickles. P.S. Come at brunch for the decadent lavender doughnuts. 500 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, MA, 617-532-5300,

8. Notch Session Saison from Craft Beer Cellar On a sunny Saturday afternoon, I forsook the fine weather and spent a few hours marinating inside Craft Beer Cellar, which is quite possibly Boston’s finest beer store. Amid the bottles of locally brewed beers like Slumbrew’s blood orange, infused Happy Sol and the lovely lagers of Jack’s Abbey, I found myself drawn to the low-alcohol quaffs of area outfit Notch Brewing. The brewery specializes in session brews like the crisp Session Pils and my favorite, the dry, peppery and compulsively drinkable Saison. 51 Leonard St., Belmont, MA, 617-932-1885,

9. Mashed Potato, Bacon and Scallion Pizza Slice at Otto When my wife and I were married in Portland, Maine, last summer, our rehearsal dinner consisted of inviting guests onto the evening ferry, supplying a couple coolers of beer and buying a boatload of thin-crust Otto pizza. So you can understand our excitement when we spied the Harvard Square outpost of the mini chain, which was serving slices to hordes of hungry customers. The plain cheese is commendable, but go big baller and get a slice topped with mashed potatoes, scallions and bacon. Don’t judge: It works. 1432 Massachussettes Ave., Cambridge, MA, 617-499-3352,

10. Super Duper Weenies On our trip to Boston, we made a most crucial stop in Connecticut at Fairfield’s Super Duper Weenies, a long-running hot dog joint focusing on beef-and-pork wieners crowned with from-scratch toppings. Fries are fresh-cut. Everything is cooked to order. I select skin-on fries and a New Englander, which is crowned with ’kraut, mustard, bacon, mustard and sweet relish. It's sweet-and-tart, snappy, zingy and rich as a Rockefeller. In other words, the weenie is just super. 306 Black Rock Turnpike, Fairfield, CT, 203-334-3647,

This story originally ran in Food Republic.

General Tso, Meet an IPA

Fellow Americans, we’re living in a golden age of craft beer and Chinese grub as our nation is finally moving beyond Budweiser and General Tso—that fictitious soldier who led chicken charging into a deep fryer. But despite all the bitter IPAs, inky stouts and lip-singeing dan dan noodles currently awaiting your stomach, craft beer and Chinese food hardly ever intersect. At restaurants, the fieriest Far East fare is typically served with Tsingtao, a lager that’s every bit as nuanced as MGD. Bold foods deserve equally bold beer.

That’s the modus operandi at AmerAsia, the rare restaurant to combine top-flight Chinese food with beer not grabbed from the bottom shelf. Located in Covington, Kentucky, within spitting distance of Cincinnati and the Ohio River, AmerAsia is a funky little place in a sleepy little downtown. The walls are decorated with graffiti-style murals and kung fu movie posters like Enter the Dragon and Game of Death, as well as, uh, lesser-known classics like Beverly Hills Ninja.

The kitschy, cartoony menu depicts master chef Rich Chu — a Hunan-born, Taiwan-raised sixty-something who learned Sichuan cuisine from the former imperial chef to China’s last emperor — as a wok-armed “Kung Food” master. Some dishes are described as “fly rice” and “Brocco-Lee.” The aesthetic teeters close to schlock, but then you nibble the dragon’s breath wontons and all tongue-in-cheek cultural trespasses are forgiven.

Fat orbs of ground pork are blended with cilantro, ginger and onions are wrapped in egg dough, simmered till plump and steaming, then anointed with incendiary red-pepper sauce and cilantro. The result is mouth-burning bliss, as are the spicy zonxon noodles mingled with mushrooms, pork, tofu, peanuts and cilantro. There’s also homemade tofu (terrific in the mapo tofu), cold beef salad marinated in sesame oil, smoky peppers and ginger, and even an impeccably fresh, incendiary General Tso’s chicken that puts its gloppy, cornstarch-coated soldiers in arms to shame.

And what of the beer? Avid homebrewer Micah Wright turned on the chef to the pleasures of craft beer and was soon installed behind the bar, tending to two rotating taps and a constantly rotating list of more than 100 beers. There are prickly pilsners, pungent IPAs, decadent stouts and aromatic ales from the likes of craft-beer all-stars Bell’s, Three Floyds, Southern Tier, Great Lakes and Rogue, along with Wright’s expert advice on pairing each brew with a specific dish.

Who knew an IPA could tame a dragon’s breath?

The story was originally published on Food Republic.

Here Is Why I Gained Weight in Hanoi

Mmm...bia hoi in Hanoi! That is, fresh, cheap beer. Food-loving globetrotters, here’s a bit of sound advice: If you’re headed to Vietnam’s northern city of Hanoi, we’d recommend you pack a pair of elastic-banded pants. The city is a wonderland of cheap eats and drinks, offering an endless variety of soups, noodles, buns, rolls and sandwiches paired with plenty of fresh herbs — and fresh beer, too.

You could spend a week eating your way through the hectic, motorbike-clogged streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter and never eat the same meal twice. I know I didn’t on my recent trip. Here are 20 dishes and drinks from Hanoi that haunt my hungry dreams.

Curious what I ate?  Check out the full story at Food Republic.

A Bloody Good Boat Noodle

Mmm...bloody boat noodles. Photo: Flickr/djjewelz

As the eldest son of a doctor and a nurse, I have become numb to blood. Talk of tricky needles was bandied about like baseball scores, and the plentiful sights of IV bags and gauze punctuated visits to my parents’ hospitals and nursing homes.

Thus, I am not freaked out by gashes and scrapes, punctures and pricks. Eating blood? One St. Patrick’s Day, I began my morn with eggs and blood pudding. The mixture of grains and hemoglobin was desert-dry and intensely minerally, akin to licking an iron bar in the desert. Another time, congee mixed with thick, arterial-toned slices of congealed pig’s blood triggered an instant gag reflex. My throat was a one-way street.

But a man can’t live his culinary life in fear. So last week in Los Angeles I decided to once more give blood a whirl. After an early morning appearance on Playboy Morning Radio, a radio show that features a former Playmate as an anchor, I convinced my driver—well, friend Steve—to steer us to Saap Coffee Shop for an early morning lunch.

“I’m buying as long as you don’t ask what we’re eating,” I told Steve, who navigated us through the congealing traffic to Thai Town. This slip of Hollywood Boulevard is home to the largest concentration of Thais in America, chockablock with eateries offering plenty of noodle dishes and curries, sweet desserts and sublime oddities such as boat noodles.

Supposedly, boat noodles are named after the aquatic chefs peddling their soupy wares from floating perches. It sounds like a good story if you ask me, a better tale to tell than the ingredients. Though they vary from cook to cook, the broth’s star players include long-boiled beef bones, soy sauce, five-spice powder, cinnamon sticks, cilantro, galangal, noodles and edible pig or cow blood.

This story originally ran in Food Republic. Check out the original here!

Following the lead of L.A. cheap-eats svengali Jonathan Gold, I decided to slurp boat noodles at Saap Coffee House. Like much of L.A., Saap is secreted in a shopping mall, the spare, sunrise-yellow room chockablock with tables topped by bowls of chiles. We selected a corner spot and two bowls of beef boat noodles.

“How spicy?” the cute waitress wondered, a question asked 10,000 times a day at Thai restaurants nationwide.

“Thai spicy,” I replied, not wanting the farang treatment.

Soon, we received a steaming bowl brimming with a murky-brown, blood-thickened broth, wispy slivers of beef and cilantro clumped together like seaweed on a beach. I dipped my spoon into the dark liquid and tentatively sipped. Instead of tasting like Dracula’s dream meal, the broth was lip-sweatingly spicy, but also packed a terrific lime-juice tartness and a deeply rich, almost primal essence balanced by bright and fresh cilantro. From first slurp to last incendiary drop, boat noodles were bloody good.

Sorry, Tagine. It's Lobster Time

Spider crabs, by way of Morocco. Photo: Jenene Chesbrough

Perhaps I would’ve had a different opinion of Moroccan cuisine if the first thing I ate upon landing in Marrakesh were not a spongy mass of lamb mammary.

That flan-colored, disturbingly luscious flesh sent my stomach roiling, leaving my appetite on rocky seas. Over the ensuing days, I barely touched my steaming tagine stuffed with sardine meatballs, or the spicy merguez sausages that were greasier than a teen’s complexion. Typically, I would’ve found some measure of culinary pleasure within this distant-land sustenance, but the sights and smells of Moroccan fare set off intestinal alarms: Do not eat.

As the days passed, my wife noticed my distress. “You’re not eating,” she said. “What’s wrong?” I explained to her my distaste with Moroccan food. I never quite cottoned to the reliance upon turmeric, pillowy piles of couscous or the dubious pleasures of cinnamon-sprinkled pigeon pie.

“I have an idea,” she said. “Let’s go to Oualidia.” Located on the Atlantic coast, Oualidia is a tiny fishing town known for its oysters, crabs, clams and other aquatic delights. Each morning, sun-browned, forehead-creased men alight into the salty, wave-smacked waters, returning with the day’s catch. Much of this fare does not make it to market. That’s because when the fishermen return, they sell their watery wares on the beach. Clams are bisected before your eyes, while fish is filleted and spindly spider crabs are cooked on sand-encased charcoal grills. It’s impossibly fresh food: alive one moment, in your belly the next.

After checking into our hotel room, my wife and I made haste to the beach with our friends Bati and Emily, with whom we were traveling. We’d been driving all day and were ravenous. We spread out our beach blankets and planted an umbrella in the sand. Within minutes, a shoeless chef approached us with his menu of the day.

We ordered a dozen raw clams, leggy spider crabs and several sizable lobsters. With haste, he lit a fire in a nearby grill and set about preparing our feast. The clams came first, served on a seaweed bed with a few wedges of lemon. A spritz, a slurp, a sigh. Next came the crabs, also finished with nothing more than salt and lemon. Using the supplied tools, we cracked the crustaceans and forked out their weight, flaky meat. It tasted of the sea and smoke.

“Looks like you’re eating now,” my wife said, pointing to the shell that was as shattered as a vase after falling from a kitchen table.

I grunted in agreement, then moved onto the main course. The lobsters’ large tails were split, revealing fire-licked flesh as white as winter’s first snowfall. Like the other seafood, the sole seasonings were lemon and salt. Butter might’ve made it even better, but at the moment on the Atlantic’s sandy eastern edge, it was tough to ask for more than another bite.

The South Is Rising—at the Bar

Meet the crew from Louisiana's Bayou Teche, who are rewriting the Southern template for beer.

As a city, New Orleans excels in the culinary arena. It makes the marvelously meaty, olive-strewn muffaletta sandwich. Crusty po’boys packed with fried oysters and shrimp are tasty to the last crumb. The absinthe-haunted Sazerac cocktail exemplifies potent balance. But beer, well, that’s barely an afterthought.

In New Orleans, beer has long been consumed by the Big Gulp, with quantity mattering more than quality. Miller High Life and its watery ilk are as omnipresent as beads come Mardi Gras. Down in the Crescent City, it seems like nary a shot has been fired in the craft beer revolution.

At least that’s what I thought until I arrived at the Avenue Pub last week. Ostensibly, I was in town for a family reunion (it’s a long story how three dozen New York–bred Jews ended up in the Big Easy). While there, I thought, I might as well add a stop to my Brewed Awakening book tour. But where to go? I doubted anyone on Bourbon Street, home to three-for-one Buds and Hurricanes as sweet as Halloween candy, gave a damn about a book on craft beer.

“Go to Avenue Pub,” offered my friend Joel, a longtime NOLA resident. In the last couple years, I learned, Avenue Pub seriously upgraded its tap lines, offering dozens of drafts focused on of-the-moment American and European ales and lagers. Sure, it’s terrific to carry Sierra Nevada and Stone. But upon arriving at the Avenue (located off the St. Charles Avenue street-car line), I was more struck by the breadth and scope of novel locally brewed beer. From Mississippi, Lazy Magnolia made a marvelous stout hewn with sweet potatoes, as well as an ale dosed with pecans. Louisiana’s Bayou Teche turned out beers suited to the Southern palate. And right in town, NOLA Brewing crafted the pungent Hopitoulas IPA, which could stand toe-to-toe with anything from the West Coast.

I spent the evening sampling brews from below the Mason-Dixon Line, finding a delightfully idiosyncratic craft beer culture on the rise. Curious about which Southern beers are worth seeking out next time you make it down to New Orleans? Check out the rest of my story at Food Republic.